A FIVE-star boutique hotel in rural Perthshire has underlined its faith in the future of the Scottish tourism industry by investing “over six figures” in a bid to come out of the coronavirus crisis in a stronger position.

The owner of Old Manse of Blair, which is set in a 10-acre estate, pressed on with plans to build seven new rooms outwith its main historical property, and develop a new farm shop in the grounds, ahead of the Scottish tourism industry reopening on July 15.

The commitment to see the expansion through came in spite of what director Anne MacDonald said had been a “perfect storm”, with the crisis striking three weeks from the end of the room building process.

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“Covid shut us all down,” Ms MacDonald said. “It destroyed what was a really fantastic pipeline of sales for 2020, which would have seen us come out of that build with no debt.

“[We are] now having to access bounce back funding and all sorts of debt to try and survive this period, and get back on our feet.”

But Ms MacDonald added: “We are in a really good position because these new rooms we have developed all have their own entrances. So from a social distancing point of view we could not be in a better position. We will have eight rooms that have their own entrances – ground floor, immediate access outside and also dog friendly – so that should appeal well to the staycation market.

“We have got a virtual check-in set-up, so they (guests) can literally arrive, navigate their way to their room, settle in, and directly order food from their mobile from their room.”

The hotel’s Orangery Restaurant has also been adapted to account for social distancing when it reopens on July 15. Ms MacDonald said the move by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to reduce the two-metre social distancing rule to one-metre for the hospitality sector, provided businesses adhere to “mitigating measures”, was a welcome step.

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Ms MacDonald said: “The one-metre rule will absolutely help those whose premises are small. Commercially they may now have a chance of survival.”

While the business will follow enhanced cleaning processes, staff will wear masks, and hand sanitiser will be available throughout, there are no plans to erect screens between tables in the restaurant. “I know some people are going down that route, but I think it can easily destroy the atmosphere of your restaurant,” Ms MacDonald said. “I do not want to go in and feel like I am in a ticket booth in Piccadilly Circus.”

She added: “We are not a small space so we can cope with social distancing without having to resort to screens.”

And the business will continue to offer the Good Food to Go Service from The Orangery Restaurant which was developed after the country moved into lockdown.

Prior to the pandemic, Old Manse of Blair had built a strong international following, with visitors from overseas accounting for around 65 per cent of its bookings. Ms MacDonald said the hotel’s international standing was built on the appeal of its historic building and “high quality” of its rooms and suites.

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Now the hotel can appeal to a broader audience because the newly-added rooms offer a different price point as they are smaller.

Ms MacDonald praised the advice and support she has received from Business Gateway. The organisation has helped her navigate the government furlough scheme and identify new markets, noting that adviser Andrew Webster had been a source of continual support since the business started in 2016.

Ms MacDonald said: “All the way along he has been a guide, whereas the banks were like rabbits in the headlights. Business Gateway were really fantastic because they were there throughout the journey. To have somebody else that believes in your business is fantastic.”

Meanwhile, Old Manse of Blair said the new farm shop it has been building will be ready to open on July 15. Ms MacDonald is hoping the venture will take advantage of its prominent location, close to the A9 junction at House of Bruar.

“We are trying to come out of Covid in a very positive way,” Ms MacDonald said.